Russell Kirsch, inventor of the pixels that you see on your devices, passes away at 91


RIP Russell Kirsch who invented the pixels or digital dots on our computer/laptop/smartphone screens; the father of pixels passes away at 91

The computer/laptop or smartphone screen you are reading on is made up of pixels or digital dots that were invented in 1957 by Russell Kirsch who passed away on Tuesday 11th August 2020 at his residence in Portland, United States at the age of 91.

Kirsch made the digital dots or pixels a reality in 1957 when he created a small, 2-by-2-inch (roughly 5-by-5-cm)  black-and-white digital image of his son, Walden. Infant Walden’s digital photograph became the first image ever to be scanned into a computer by using a device created by Kirsch’s research team at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards which is now called NIST or National Institutes of Science and Technology.

Infant Walden’s scanned image measured a mere 176 pixels on each side and was just shy of 31,000 pixels in total. However, this sparked a revolution in the digital display which could let us use the iPhone 11’s 12MP rear camera can capture roughly 12 million pixels per image.

Russell Kirsch was born in Manhattan in 1929, the son of Jewish immigrants from Hungary and Russia. He received schooling at the Bronx High School of Science, New York University, MIT, and Harvard University, and he worked for half a century as a research scientist at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards (now called the National Institutes of Science and Technology, or NIST).

“My dad, he was a super curious guy, always asking questions,” said Walden Kirsch, his son who became the first man in the world to have his image digitized. “He was an iconoclast. When people said you can’t go there or you can’t do that, he did,” reports Oregon Live

Kirsch’s work “laid the foundations for satellite imagery, CT scans, virtual reality and Facebook,” said a Science News article in 2010, later republished in Wired. “Squares was the logical thing to do,” Kirsch had told Science News. “Of course, the logical thing was not the only possibility… but we used squares. It was something very foolish that everyone in the world has been suffering from ever since.”

In addition to inventing pixels, Kirsch later developed a method to smooth out images by using pixels with variable shapes instead of the squares.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Joan; by children Walden, Peter, Lindsey and Kara; and by four grandchildren.


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"The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had." Eric Schmidt

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